When Salma Khuky started her engineering career at the Bangladesh Roads and Highways Department, she quickly realised that the opportunities open to women were limited. The few female engineers employed by the department were relegated to desk jobs, playing a support role, rather than directly working on large-scale road and bridge construction.
“You know the engineering business it involves the contractors, the social and political parties – it’s a huge money involving business,” Salma explains. “So the senior officials they told me, it’s not suitable for you,” she says. Determined to excel in her career, Salma challenged her supervisors and demanded to work on the most complex building projects in the country’s capital, Dhaka.
Her supervisors eventually gave in and Salma became the first female engineer to work in the Dhaka field office, which she did for the full-term of three years. The experience made her realise that if she wanted to continue to grow professionally in this male-dominated field, she needed more knowledge.
“I applied for [an] Australia Awards Scholarship… I learned so many cutting edge theories – It opened my perception and understanding”, she says.
“Then I applied for the Australia Awards Scholarship,” she says. In 2010, Salma successfully underwent the competitive scholarship selection process and was offered a place at the University of Western Sydney. “I did my masters in engineering management – and really I enjoyed my course,” she recalls. “I learned so many cutting edge theories and I was really adding value to my career- It opened my perception and understanding.”
Upon completing her degree, Salma returned to the Department in 2012 and was quickly promoted. Today she is one of the few Executive Engineers of the Department, supervising more than 30 people and is considered a pioneer by her colleagues.
“Salma was one of the first women who worked in the field division of the roads and highways department,” says her colleague Mohammad Omer Aiaz. “She is very courageous – she can be a role model to the other female officers,” he says.
“Ladies have common problems across the profession, across the continents, across the world,” Salma says. “But, in countries like ours, these issues are more aggravating, more urgent.”
“Salma was one of the first women who worked in the field division of the roads and highways department,” says her colleague Mohammad Omer Aiaz.
Even so, Salma remains hopeful that the barriers holding female professionals back can be overcome with targets like those recently set by UN Women, which compel governments to promote professional equality across the board. “By 2030 it should be 50/50 in every profession and in every country,” says Salma. “So I dream of 50/50 by 2030.”